This GLUTEN FREE FLOUR/GRAIN GUIDE is intended to provide and overview of the most common options for use in Gluten Free baking and cooking. For successful GF baking and for nutritional reasons, VARIETY IS KEY.
SUBSTITUTIONS can usually be made directly within each category. Example: a GF recipe calls for ½ Cup of Teff flour, you can substitute ½ Cup of Buckwheat flour instead because they are both considered Pseudo grain flours. As with any Gluten Free baking, it is always recommended to mix up flours between categories as they each contribute such different qualities to the resulting dish.
These flours provide affordable bulk with basic nutritional value.
Brown Rice Flour
Brown rice is the first edible product when rice is harvested. It has had the inedbile husk removed. Brown rice contains many nutrients and lots of fibre. It is high in Manganese, Selenium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Copper and Vitamin B3 (Niacin).
Brown rice contributes a grainier texture to baking with zero binding capacity (as a gluten flour would) It can be the main replacement volume within a gluten-free flour blend with the addition of starches.
White Rice Flour
White rice is produced with one more step in processing from brown rice whereby the brown outer covering (called the aleurone layer) is removed to reveal the white grain within. Most of the nutrients are stored within this aleurone layer including fatty acids that can go rancid more easily than the much less nutritious layer underneath. White rice was ‘made’ to extend the shelf life of rice but the unfortunate result is far less nutritive value.
According to the World’s Healthiest Foods, “The complete milling and polishing that converts brown rice into white rice destroys 67% of the vitamin B3, 80% of the vitamin B1, 90% of the vitamin B6, half of the manganese, half of the phosphorus, 60% of the iron, and all of the dietary fiber and essential fatty acids”. As a flour, white rice flour behaves similarly to brown rice flour but with less nutritive value.
Maize flour is made from finely ground up maize corn. It is different to corn flour because corn flour is actually the processed and extracted starch from corn that is usually used to thicken sauces. Maize flour is commonly used to make Mexican corn tortillas, and other similar baked goods. It is one step finer than Polenta, which is a coarser grind of corn. Polenta is most commonly used in slices, pizza bases, as a ‘crunchy topping’ on casseroles and a yummy thickened side dish to any meal. It is very important in today’s world to only get certified organic, non GMO Polenta and Maize flour.
A well-loved flour by many to add lightness, sponginess, or crumbly texture to baked goods. It is mild in flavour and quite nutritious. It is high in copper, phosphorus, manganese, and magnesium with many other benefits. Millet makes a delicious porridge from it’s whole grain being long-cooked in plenty of water. Millet will firm up quite solidly when cooled therefore it gives structure to baked goods.
These flours provide high quality nutrition but are stronger in flavour so should be used in lesser quantity.
Amaranth is in the family of swiss chard, spinach, beets, and quinoa. These miniature little ‘grains’ are not technically grains but eaten as such. It has the nutritional benefits of both a grain and a vegetable such as spinach and is considered a complete protein. It contains 4 x as much calcium as wheat and 2 x as much magnesium, iron, and Lysine (an essential amino acid). It does not cook like a rice or like quinoa but rather has a stickier consistency, making it more suitable for porridge as a stand-alone grain. Otherwise, it combines very well in WITH rice or quinoa when cooking it to give variety of nutrition and texture. It can also be popped (like pop corn) in a hot skillet for a crunchier effect.
As a flour, amaranth brings nutrition and a slightly nutty taste but works best in smaller quantities along with other gluten free flours.
Another complete protein and very high in it too. It can sometimes impart a slightly bitter taste to dishes when used as a flour therefore it is best in savoury baking. It brings much nutrition to a flour blend and can be used in smaller quantities along with other flours. As a grain, it is delicious cooked on it’s own, as one would cook/eat rice. It too can be turned into a porridge if overcooked with extra water or mylk. The whole, cooked grains can be used instead of flour in brownies for a higher protein, grain-free alternative.
Buckwheat is NOT a wheat and it is gluten free. It is technically a fruit seed and is related to Sorrel and Rhubarb. It can be eaten in many ways. Nutritionally it is high in manganese, copper magnesium, fibre, and phosphorus. It is delicious when activated (soaked, rinsed and re-dried) as a crunchy sprinkle on salads and breakfasts. It is delicious toasted, cooked as a grain for a side dish to a meal, and can also be eaten sprouted. Ground as a flour it imparts a sticky/slippery/mucilaginous texture making it an excellent base flour for pancakes.
The most commonly eaten ‘grain’ in Ethiopia. It is very high in protein, iron, calcium, B vitamins, and is 20-30% resistant starch making it great for weight control, blood sugar control and gastrointestinal health (Banana flour is 17.5% resistant starch). The Teff ‘grain’ is the smallest known grain, even smaller than poppy seeds. They are brown in colour and impart a molasses-like flavour to dishes, some say chocolatey. It is slightly mucilaginous like buckwheat and amaranth, giving cakes, sweet breads and muffins a light and soft texture.
Also known as finger millet. It is a red ‘grain’ commonly grown in Ethiopia and India. It is so nutritious that is often fed to infants over the age of 6 months as a porridge due to its high levels of iron, calcium, and B-vitamins. This flour would be used in smaller quantities along with other flours as it has a slightly stronger flavour and texture than others.
These provide texture and lightness to baked goods or are used as thickeners.
Is not to be confused with Potato FLOUR (explained below). Potato starch is the extracted starch from a dried potato and is powdery and very white. It is used in fairly high volumes commonly in gluten-free flour mixes due to its ability to lighten up baking. It is virtually devoid of nutrients. This is why it is important to add the smaller quantities of more nutritious flours into baking mixes.
Tapioca flour or starch
Is made from the Cassava/Yucca plant root and is different to Arrowroot although commonly used interchangeably in Australia. tapioca flour is also a very common ingredient in gluten-free flour blends to bring that “white bread” texture most seek out. It is powdery and very white like most starches and is mostly devoid of nutrients. It is commonly used to thicken sauces and gravies but it imparts a glossy sheen that can sometimes look unnatural in sauces. It is a great choice for anything that will be frozen as it does not break down when frozen (whereas corn starch will turn the dish mushy once thawed). Tapioca flour will thicken at a lower temperature which makes it good for finishing a sauce immediate prior to serving. It can however, break down and return to liquid if heated for too long at higher temperatures. All starches used to thicken sauces should be first dissolved into a room temperature-or-colder liquid first and then slowly poured into a hot sauce while constantly stirring for two reasons: 1.) to make sure to not over-thicken by adding too much and 2.) so no lumps form by letting it sit.
Made from the Arrowroot plant. This would only need to be kept in stock for the use of thickening acidic sauces, otherwise Tapioca works just fine and very similarly. Do not use arrowroot to thicken sauces containing dairy as it will go slimy. Arrowroot will withstand freezing well though.
Sweet Rice (Mochiko)
Sometimes called ‘glutinous rice flour’ but it does not contain gluten. Sweet rice flour is finely ground and powdery. It is made from the starchy short grain “sticky” rice and is not at all sweet in flavour like it’s name suggests. This rice, as a flour, is good for thickening sauces and giving a light texture to baked goods.
Corn starch (called cornflour in Australia) has less desirable qualities than tapioca and arrowroot and does not withstand freezing. Its origins are also not required to be labelled and therefore can be from GMO Corn which is more likely than not in today’s world.
These flours provide bulk with medium nutritional value.
Besan (chickpea) Flour
Besan flour is commonly used to make Indian chapatis, flatbreads, or crepe-like pancakes. It is versatile but best when used either particularly for its flavour or in savoury dishes. It does give a nice moisture and texture to baked dishes but the flavour can be noticeable in sweet dishes. It is nutritionally dense and high in protein.
Black Bean Flour
Not very common but yummy to thicken up chili, Mexican sauces, or soups and stews. It contributes Fibre, protein and iron to a dish and can usually be used up to 25% in a flour substitution. It will however darken the colour of the resulting dish slightly.
These meals provide high nutritional value and delicious flavour differences.
Almond meal is very common now and is also very easy to make on your own from whole raw (or activated) almonds in a food processor. Actually, making it fresh yourself is the preferred way to maintain freshness. Ground almond meal can go rancid much more quickly than whole almonds and should therefore be kept in the fridge once turned into meal, unless you will be using it within about a month. Almond meal has become even more popular of late due to the Paleo movement which allow almond meal as a replacement for other flours in baking. It is nutritious and very versatile and forms a staple in my kitchen. The only caution (as with anything) is that it is not overused. It is generally accepted that we only need small quantities of nuts each day and that more is not necessarily better for our systems. Almonds are also a highly sprayed crop and therefore it is best to seek out at least insecticide-free almonds or else organic ones. Developing a habit of activating the whole bag as soon as you buy it and then re-drying it will save you much time and make for happier tummies.
If there is only ONE addition you make to any recipe it ‘should’ be a Tablespoon or two of flaxmeal (linseed meal). This innocent little seed is the highest in Omega-3 essential fatty acids that our bodies need. In today’s world most of our diets are out of balance between Omega-6 and Omega-3 EFAs. 30 years ago our diet was closer to 1:2 Omega-6: Omega-3, now it is closer to between 1:20 and 1:45. Flaxmeal also acts as a broom in our intestine to helps clean away that which normally gets stuck to the walls. It tastes delcious even on its own mixed in water and allowed to sit and form a paste. Recipes will usually call for no more than 1/3Cup of flaxmeal. It can also replace eggs in most recipes too because it forms a similar texture when mixed with water and holds a binding capacity through the cooking like eggs do.
Sunflower Seed Meal
Not necessarily used as a flour substitute but still used very often in my kitchen. Sunflower seeds have a mild flavour, wonderful texture, and contribute a host of benefits as well. It can be used like cashews to make dips, even a ‘mock-chicken-salad’, or in breakfasts, muffins, cakes, and breads. This is also best if you grind it yourself and it is not as important to activate sunflower seeds as it is almonds for example.
Think Nutella. Hazelnut meal is most commonly used in GF baking to make pie/tart bases with that characteristic Hazelnut taste. It can substitute for almond meal in almost any dish and goes well in muffins, cakes, and breads. It comes at a higher price than almond meal and usually is found in the fridge section.
Brazil Nut Meal
Can’t say I have done this one much but still very much a possibility. Brazil nuts and almonds are most easily digested when activated first. Brazil nuts are high in Selenium and are therefore very good for the structure of your cells, all of them; the cardiovascular system, varicose veins etc. It is so high in Selenium though that it is recommended not to exceed more than 3 nuts per day on a regular basis.
Coconut flour is very common, very affordable, smells uniquely delicious and happens to also be “Paleo-friendly” if you are choosing a grain-free diet. This flour will absorb more liquid in a dish than most other flours so you need to use less of it when substituting. Like most GF flours, it is best when used in combination with other GF flours to balance out all of their properties. Although much of the nutrition has been extracted into the coconut milk and oil there are still beneficial bits remaining. Use coconut flour as a grain-free substitute and to add bulk to a baked good.
New to the market, Banana flour is made from green bananas and is on the borderline of classification between a ‘flour’ and a ‘starch’. The bragging rights banana flour claims is that it is high in resistant-starch which is said to be good for keeping blood sugar levels and therefore appetite in check. It is touted as a ‘weight-loss’ flour and comes with the price tag as well. If choosing to use this flour, it would be best used as your nutritional addition to another GF flour blend of up to 25% of the mix. As we learned above, Teff flour is actually much higher in resistant starch so if this is your reason for using it then you have options.
Provide binding capacity to mimic the effects of gluten-flours.
Gums behave similarly to starches but are much more concentrated in their ability to bind. In GF baking they are, dare I say, a necessity to prevent crumbly mess. Guar gum is my preferred option in terms of its origin being the guar gum bean, which is a legume, commonly grown in India. It is fantastic at emulsifying and stabilising but does not have the exact same gelling/gluten-mimicking properties as Xanthan gum. It is sometimes recommended to use a little bit of both Guar and Xanthan to achieve the ‘perfect’ GF counterpart - if this is what you’re after.
Guar gum is also a bit less expensive than Xanthan gum. Only 1-2 tsp is needed in most baking.
Xanthan gum is derived from corn. In today’s world, this could only be assumed to be GMO corn. It is hard to imagine that such a tiny little amount of such a highly extracted product could still carry the harm of a GMO food but none of us are to know (yet?). Wherever possible I try to use guar gum instead of Xanthan but if I needed to make ‘the perfect GF sandwich bread’ then this would be a must for its gluten-mimicking ability.
The reason for putting Potato flour in with the gums is because it is used in similar quantities (slightly more) and for similar effect. Potato flour is heavy, off-white in colour, and made from the ground up fully-dried potatoes. I would hazard a guess that they would not be using A-grade organic potatoes to make it from...? I do not have many uses for potato flour personally but could be used if required as a substitute for Guar or Xanthan in double the quantity.
*** Note: These flours/meals cannot be directly substituted as they have too different of qualities to the other flours in their category.